By The Glass
Martinellis made good use of prime land
There was a time when the winemaking Martinellis of Sonoma, Calif., were frequently confused with the sparkling-cider family of the same name. Company president Julianna Martinelli recalls her sister Regina receiving invitations to parties, having been mistaken for a cider Martinelli. That's not so much of a problem these days as the winery's reputation has grown.
With prime agricultural land at their fingertips, a passion to do whatever it takes to make great wine, and one of the most talented viticultural/winemaking teams in California, Martinelli has made its mark on wine lists of the nation's great restaurants and in the cellars of discriminating collectors.
In 1860, newlyweds Giuseppe Martinelli and Luisa Vellutini arrived from Tuscany, Italy, looking for a fresh start. Eventually settling in Sonoma's Russian River Valley in 1887, they raised sheep and cattle, and planted the crops favored by farmers of that time -- potatoes, walnuts, prunes, apples and, lastly, wine grapes.
But it was not until 1973, when Lee Sr. (Guiseppe's grandson) took over management of the estate, that the family's foray into winemaking really took off.
Although his Uncle Tony's Russian River Valley land comprised mainly apple orchards, Lee began planting vineyards in the rich soil. Soon his premium grapes were in great demand from neighboring wineries. Realizing the potential to create superb wines from their grapes, Lee and his wife, Carolyn, seized the opportunity and opened their own winery.
Twenty years later, the couple met some new neighbors picnicking on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere. They owned a vineyard, too; their names were Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer.
The Martinellis recognized Helen's name immediately. Her stints at BR Cohn, Bryant Family, Colgin, Pahlmeyer, Peter Michael Winery and her famous brother's estate, Turley Winery, established her as one of California's top winemakers.
Helen's Marcassin vineyard was on the same ridge as the Martinelli's Charles Ranch vineyard. The couples began working together. Helen introduced the Martinellis to new viticultural and cellar practices; today she is the Martinellis' winemaker, working with the talented Bryan Kvamme.
Lee and sons Lee Jr. and George continue to work the land in keeping with traditional family business practices, with the ancient apple orchards and humble original vineyards maintained alongside developed vineyard plantings.
The Martinellis cannot compare to such dynasties as the Antinori family of Tuscany, founded in 1385 and famous for chianti and the Super Tuscan "Tignanello," or the Trimbach family of Alsace, France (1626), with its superb rieslings. But when you consider America's short winemaking history, the Martinellis are definitely one of the oldest, best established and respected family owned/operated wineries in Sonoma.
JuliAnnA Martinelli will team up with Halekulani chef Darryl Fujita for a five-course dinner at Orchids, 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 17, featuring Martinelli vineyard's Gewurztraminer 2006, Martinelli Road Chardonnay 2005, as well as a selection of four pinot noirs, including the stunning Blue Slide Ridge 2005. Julianna will chat about the winery and selections served. Call 931-5040.
Kevin Toyama is at sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org